Examining Latin America’s Response to the Refugee Crisis

This month, in response to the refugee crisis in Europe, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff made headlines using a video message to welcome refugees into the country. In the message, President Rousseff opened doors to Syrian refugees who were willing to contribute to the Brazilian economy by working and living in the country, while maintaining peace and prosperity in Brazil.

However, Brazil is not the only Latin American country opening its door to refugees. Latin America has been accepting refugees from around the world prior to the current crisis, but it has been vastly under reported. Particularly even now in regards to the current European refugee crisis.

In terms of the current crisis in Europe, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro also made a commitment to accepting 20, 000 Syrian refugees. As well, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet stated that Chile would accept refugees.

Taking a Closer Look

Brazil has been leading the charge for Latin America in terms of accepting Syrian refugees in the current crisis. Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, Brazil has taken in more than 2,000 refugees, making Brazil the number one country in Latin America that is accepting Syrian refugees. This is significant in the fact that Latin America is seen far behind North American and European countries economically and politically.

In fact, Brazil has streamlined the process of accepting refugees. There is a website that refugees can access for Brazil called http://www.refugeesinbrazil.com/how-can-we-help/. The website provides services, resources and information for those wishing to come to Brazil.

Syrian refugees who have recently come to Brazil reported positive experiences. For example, they have not experienced any of the anti-immigrant sentiment that they had felt in Europe.

Statistics taken from World Bank show Brazil’s acceptance rate of refugees increasing since 2010.

However, the Syrian conflict aside, the country of Ecuador currently holds the highest number of refugees in all of Latin America. The high numbers are due to the mass movement of Colombian refugees who fled across the border due to armed conflict starting from 1985.

Why Brazil?

It may seem odd that out of all the Latin American countries, Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 9.35.49 AMmanySyrian refugees have taken to Brazil. However, Brazil holds a strong tie to Syria and the Middle East. During the 20th century, there was a major immigration wave that resulted in around 3 million Brazilians with Syrian ancestry.

Early this year, Brazil became the highest holder of Syrian refugees in all of Latin America. Brazil only announced the offer of humanitarian visas to Syrian refugees and others in the region in 2013. Brazil also has been granting 90-day tourist visas to refugees while applications are being processed. Furthermore, a new program called Conare, has also been implemented to help Syrian refugees obtain legal status.

Yet, Brazil has been facing criticism over its treatment of refugees. Some Syrian refugees have been saying that Brazil is not doing enough to help. Brazil has been excellent at facilitating Syrian refugees legally into the country; however, no help is given in terms of finding a permanent home or work in a country that is deemed by some Syrian refugees as expensive to live in. In fact, other refugees who have chosen to settle elsewhere in Latin America are also facing the problem of the high cost of living.

Uruguay recently faced protests by Syrian refugees who wanted to be granted the right to leave the country because of the high cost of living and the lack of jobs. Some even wanted to go back to Syria.

In terms of Brazil, however it remains to be seen whether the Syrian refugees will protest over the lack of opportunity to work and the high cost of living. It would be very interesting to see how Brazil will handle any such protests or discontentment among its Syrian refugee population now that it holds the highest number out of all the Latin American countries that have Syrian refugees.

It is possible that Brazil will fail in the way it handles Syrian refugees judging by its inability to help Haitian refugees. However, at the time Haitian refugees were moving into Brazil the problem was the lack of legal controls to have them enter and the lack of warning. The way Brazil will be moving forward into the future with Syrian refugees should be closely watched by other countries around the world that are not situated in North America or Europe. These countries could gain knowledge about how to respond to an international issue as a country that may not be as powerful economically and politically as a North American or European country. Brazil’s handling of Syrian refugees could also be seen as a true testament in determining how influential Brazil can be.

 

About Sukhpal Kaur Sangha

Sukhpal is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto. Graduating with distinction, her Honours Bachelor of Arts degree focused on a double major in History and Political Science with a minor in Anthropology. She has spent much of her time devoted to volunteering in the community and the world around her. Her various passions resulted in her receiving the University of Toronto Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award. She currently volunteers on a Young Leaders Council in her community. Her passions include global history, Latin America, security, intelligence, international issues and development. She welcomes any questions or comments. Email: sukhpal.sangha25@gmail.com